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Alas, Plastic Bag; We Knew Ye Well:

Maybe at the top here we can agree that there are two general categories of environmental legislation. First, there’s a kind of proper ‘Boy Scout’ action that has a wonderful quality of engaging the public and offering high visibility while it is enforced. 

Then there’s the second kind: Deep-dish legislation that hurts the giant powers involved and actually stands up to those who would make the planet unlivable in the future for short-term financial gains in the present.

We desperately need both kinds of legislation. Here in Santa Monica, we enjoy a viable recycling program that engages households and results in tons of material being recycled.

We are sorting and collecting in our homes, and the trucks arrive and gather the material right out in front of our homes where we can see it happening. But all that activity does nothing to prevent another oil spill off the shores of Santa Barbara that might be worse than the nightmare in 1969 that created blackened beaches sprinkled with dead and dying birds. 

To stop things like that—huge environmental disasters with scope and long-lasting impact—you need a big stick and the will to stand-up to Big Oil.

After that spill in Santa Barbara there was a moratorium on new oil platforms close to shore, but existing platforms continued to operate and there was more activity out beyond a three-mile limit. Because, you know, we gotta have that oil.

So then, whither the ban on the single-use plastic shopping bag. Anyone who has felt depressed walking through a natural or undeveloped area and finding plastic bags littering trees and covering the ground like bad prop snow on the set of a Christmas TV special will hail the ban. Plastic shopping bags even find their way into the ocean. Personally, I find it very satisfying that a hideous change—plastic bags replacing paper—has been reversed. We all looked bad with our arms dangling long at our sides as we trudged home with plastic bag handles stretched and distended.

And then we just threw them out, adding to the vast mountain range of solid waste.

Now we will all be using reusable totes and bags, paying a slight fee for the occasional paper bag, and bidding adieu to plastic bags spinning in a vortex of one-way waste pushed by the wind. It will be a good thing that we turned-back this idiotic bid to profit by generating massive waste with poorly engineered plastic shopping bags. But the big-scale, messy, toxic forms of industrial pollution won’t be sleeping anytime soon.

While it’s easy to associate a kind of religious fervor to the good people that lead the battles against such things as plastic shopping bags, it’s something else to grasp the almost “born again” demands of accepting what we must do to save the planet. Oil, which rules the planet Earth like a world government, must be vanquished and replaced with renewable sources of energy. That’s a mission that will make, if you’ll excuse me, jihad-like demands on us if we’re really going to accomplish it. Removing the strands of petroleum-based products woven into our consumer lives will be like having surgery to remove a sizeable cyst.

And then there’s water. It will be easier to become impassioned about the approaching water crisis; we’ll all be thirsty as hell and some much worse than others. But will we march and shout too late, after corporations have seized control of water as they are doing right this minute in South America? A world in which the human right to water is a joke to the forces that end up controlling water might seem as ludicrous as a pitch for marketing bottled water would have seemed to a room full of “Mad Men” ad execs back in the day. But we’re buying bottled water off store shelves right now.

Each and every step matters, because taking those steps prepares us for the battles ahead. Banning plastic shopping bags reminds us that we can and do have governments that are capable of representing us. And our future battles will be fierce, because instead of being about preserving the beauty of nature and the clarity of the skies we will be fighting for our lives. Science fiction? Sour grapes? Liberal hand-wringing? I’ll answer “yes” to all of those. And yet conceding that doesn’t stop something as irrational, greedy, archaic and doomed to creating environmental havoc as the Keystone Pipeline.

California can take pride in legislating the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. Those bags were a humiliating symbol of the presumed powerlessness of consumers to impact their own lives. We all became stretchy plastic bag carriers simply because the industry producing the plastic involved wanted to expand its horizons and talked retail into colluding. There was never a pragmatic or environmental advantage to those bags; they were just about money. We’ve properly repelled them.

Now… about using something else in our gas tanks…

in Opinion
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